Remember Merrily We Roll Along, the Sondheim musical out of Kaufman and Hart that began with its climactic scene and worked backward to the beginning? Deaver’s borrowed the same concept and juiced it with assorted felonies, nonstop suspense and his trademark braininess.
The opening scene seems both to begin and to end in media res. Gabriela McKenzie, whose 6-year-old daughter Sarah has been kidnapped by Joseph Astor, waits with insurance executive Sam Easton for the return of his boss, Andrew Faraday, and venture capitalist Daniel Reardon. The two men have gone to deliver the item Joseph demanded: the October List, a document containing contact information for the secret clients of Gabriela’s boss, wealthy investment counselor Charles Prescott. But the scene ends with the threatening entrance of Joseph, not Andrew and Daniel. From that moment on, Deaver (The Kill Room, 2013, etc.) sucks you into a whirlwind reverse-chronology tour of Gabriela’s nightmare weekend: her tense interviews with a pair of New York cops, her ransacking of Prescott’s office to find the October List, the encounter in which Joseph tells her that he’s got Sarah, the news that Prescott has vanished with his firm’s money, her meet-cute with Daniel, all punctuated by the sudden, shocking crimes Gabriela and others commit in the pursuit of the elusive list. The conceit of a tale unrolling backward in time initially seems daunting, but it’s not so different from the way lots of detective stories—or for that matter lots of Ibsen plays—unfold, and Deaver dispenses expository bits and cliffhangers with a mastery that’ll make you smile even more broadly after you realize how thoroughly you’ve been hoodwinked.
Perhaps the cleverest of all Deaver’s exceptionally clever thrillers. If you’ve ever wished you could take the film Memento to the beach, here’s your chance.